The Intolerance of Tolerance,
D. A. Carson, Paperback 186p, IVP
Don Carson has been reflecting on the issue of tolerance for a number of years. He touched on the subject in The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, Zondervan, 1996 and returned to it in Christ and Culture Revisited (reviewed here), Apollos/IVP, 2008. In fact, Carson sees this volume as a supplement to Christ and Culture Revisited. In this book-length treatment he has the space to develop thoughts that could only be hinted at in his earlier works. As promised, here is my review.
Carson’s basic thesis is that the meaning of tolerance has changed in the last few decades. Tolerance used to mean putting up with views with which we might strongly disagree. More recently tolerance has taken on a new aspect, involving the acceptance of all views as equally valid.
The old tolerance involved a commitment to truth as well as a willingness to allow people with whom we disagree to say what they think. The new tolerance barely acknowledges that there is any such thing as truth. Accordingly, it is regarded as the height of intolerance to suggest that one’s views are right and others are wrong. Such “intolerance” simply should not be tolerated.
As a con-coercive faith, Christianity sits comfortably with the older understanding of tolerance. The new tolerance, however his highly problematic because we believe in truth, the truth of God’s word, revealed supremely in Jesus Christ.
Carson details the intolerance of the “new tolerance” when it comes to the worlds of government, education, the law, the media, “gay rights”, and the Christian faith. His examples are drawn from incidents in the USA and the UK. In an increasingly secular age faith-based values are being squeezed out of public life.
In a final chapter the writer suggests some ways ahead when it comes to responding to the “new tolerance” from a Christian standpoint. His “Ten Words” call for a robust confession of the truth and civility in public discourse.
This timely book is highly recommended.
* Reviewed for Protestant Truth